ALTHOUGH it has officially turned down a $15,000 student bursary donation from Enbridge, Northwest Community College remains committed to having the money go to deserving students, says its chair.
Speaking this morning, Rhoda Witherly said it’s talking with Enbridge to establish a method whereby qualifying students can still apply for six $2,500 bursaries without being officially involved.
Her comments follow a March 21 college board meeting in which it decided to return the money to Enbridge which wants to build the Northern Gateway pipeline to carry crude oil from Alberta to a marine terminal at Kitimat.
The project, final approval of which is expected by the federal government in June, has been heavily criticized for a number of reasons, including the potential for environmental harm should there be a lead from the pipeline or from tankers which will carry the crude oil overseas.
The bursaries were first announced by the college March 3 and 71 student applications were received leading up the March 21 decision.
Witherly said it’s important to remember that the bursaries were meant for students and not to support the college itself.
“We are committed to providing educational programs and to assisting our students,” she said.
The Enbridge donation was brought up by a board member at the March 21 meeting in a response to a letter sent to the board.
“After extensive discussion, pretty emotional discussion, the board narrowly passed the [rejection] motion,” said Witherly.
“We had some concerns expressed to us from some of the staff, that we should not be accepting [Enbridge] money because they don’t like Northern Gateway. It’s quite obvious that’s what’s happened.”
Witherly said the college does have a donations acceptance policy which does state that the college is apolitical and that accepting corporate money is not an indication of an endorsement of any specific project.
“But there may have been a bit of a lack of understanding [by the board] as to how the policy worked,” she said.
That’s why, she said, the board will strike a policy review committee to look at how it handles corporate donations.
When asked if the college might now be regarded as taking a political position by turning down the Enbridge money, Witherly said she hoped that would not be the case.
“This is a very, very difficult issue,” said Witherly in noting that while Northern Gateway is top of mind in the region, it may not be the only project brought up for discussion.
She also said it’s important for the college to be clear about its donations policy because provincial budget cuts have caused it to look for corporate money.
“Without some certainty on our part, that certainly won’t happen,” Witherly said of the need by the college to find private financial support.
Ivan Giesbrecht from Enbridge Northern Gateway said the company looks forward to providing the bursary money in some fashion by working with the college.
“Northern Gateway’s commitment to northern students is still firmly intact and that won’t change,” he said.
“I think it’s worth noting that over 70 students applied for those bursaries when they were initially announced, knowing that it was an initiative funded by Northern Gateway. We are strong supporters of education and skills training in the north and we will continue to honour our commitments to students across the region,” said Giesbrecht.